Letters will go out this week to the 140 families with children enrolled in Gate City Charter School for the Arts with a last-minute announcement that the school, which had planned to open on West Hollis Street, will instead be located in Merrimack.
The new charter school, which will open in September with an arts-integrated program for children in kindergarten through grade 6, was forced to change sites when the cost of renovating the former Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical building at 591 West Hollis St. turned out to be more than the $750,000 sales price for the property.
The school’s board of trustees has instead signed a 10-year lease for space at 7 Henry Clay Drive, across the street from the Merrimack YMCA. Board members are working on plans to help families that may have transportation problems.
“We scrambled and looked for other sites in Nashua, but there was nothing with enough space available,” said Karin Cevasco, one of the school’s founders, and the current chairwoman of the board.
The school will open on the entire first floor of a multi-tenant building, which is now being renovated by owners Adamain Construction and Development to bring the space up to the code requirements for an elementary school.
“We’re happy to have them,” said Heather Adamian who recently met with architects to discuss the extensive scope of the work.
While board members were disappointed the new Gate City Charter School will not be located in Gate City, Cevasco said the new site is about a mile from the Nashua border.
Still, moving into Merrimack means that the Nashua School District will no longer provide transportation for students, 70 percent of whom live in the city.
Cevasco said school staff will work on arranging car pools for families, and before and after-school programs will be launched to help working parents who will be driving their children to and from school.
Cevasco said she plans to follow up the letters announcing the change with phone calls to the families of all incoming students.
The change in locations was an unexpected hurdle for the school that quickly filled its slots for enrollment through a lottery last spring, but also has a long waiting list.
The board recently hired Bill Anderson as the school’s first director. Anderson, who studied educational leadership at Plymouth State University, brings more than 30 years of experience to Gate City Charter School, including a recent stint as principal of a public charter school in southern California.
The board also hired Dr. Jill Crane as the school’s curriculum coordinator. A founder of the Polaris Charter School in Manchester, Crane also has years of experience as a public school principal and federal projects director.
As for classroom teachers, Cevasco said she was surprised by the amount of talent the school was able to attract.
“We were expecting a lot of right-out-of-college teachers,” she said adding that charter school teachers earn significantly less than teachers in public schools.
“But we attracted a lot of experienced teachers who were interested in teaching in an arts-integrated school,” she said. “Our teachers have master’s degrees.”
Cevasco is happy to now be looking ahead to September, and grateful for the support the school has received from the community and especially from Nashua School Superintendent Mark Conrad.
“We have had a consistently wonderful relationship with Superintendent Conrad,” said Cevasco who added that Conrad recently offered some words of encouragement that have stuck with her.
“He told me that important things are never easy,” she said.